If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend this post by John Shertzer over on his blog, Fraternal Thoughts. In the post, John discusses the influence women have over men—and how women can use this influence to change sexist (or otherwise negative) behavior. John offers specific suggestions for how women can encourage men to act more appropriately. Most of this advice references fraternities and sororities, an area familiar to him both personally and professionally.
For instance, John says,
“If a fraternity drops by to invite you to a ‘Pimps and Ho’s’ party, don’t cheer. Or giggle. Or even smile. Wonder instead why you didn’t tell them to get the hell out. And then tell them to get the hell out.”
Also, “A formal is a tradition in which men act like gentlemen and women act like ladies. Expect the former and do the latter.”
I really like the post and think that it should give us some food for thought. If women actually adopted some of his strategies, I could see these campaigns being extremely successful. I particularly appreciate some of the more subtle suggestions on the list. Asking pointed questions rather than outright calling a man “sexist” may send the message without putting him on the defensive—which might make a change in behavior more likely. I also think we can extend John’s argument far beyond the realm of fraternities.
That being said, I have some issues with the way John expresses his point. Some of his advice comes off as condescending, like when he says “Does your well-choreographed serenade feel and look like a lap dance? Stop and think.” Some of it sounds exceedingly obvious—although to John’s credit, that doesn’t mean that women are following it.
Finally, I’m troubled by the suggestion that women are to blame for the poor treatment they receive from men. John says, “Many fraternities and fraternity men behave badly – being insensitive at best and harmful at worst. A lot of these men receive an assist from women who let them off the hook. They let them feel no consequences for their boorish behavior.”
I see John’s point—by continuing to engage with men who act disrespectfully, women implicitly sanction that behavior. However, the sentiment in this paragraph calls to mind the blame-the-victim philosophy often seen in rape cases: the idea that a woman was “asking for it” because she wore a short skirt or flirted with a man. Are women who attend fraternity parties “asking” to be harassed or taken advantage of? Do they need to choose between expressing their principles and having social lives? I don’t know that John intends to imply this, but his conception of cause and effect is not always clear in the post.
While I wish John had phrased some ideas differently, he makes a convincing argument. I can think of some moments in college where I wish I had used some of his suggestions. I hope that I’ll remember them in the future when I inevitably find myself in a similar situation (although probably not at a frat party).
If I had close friends still involved in Greek life, I would forward this to them. But most of my friends in college tended to fall outside that community—for the very reasons John felt the need to write this post.